December 17, 2018 / 8:14 AM / 8 months ago

China hopes U.S. can learn not to 'blurt things out' after Zambia denial

BEIJING (Reuters) - China hopes the United States can learn a lesson and “not blurt things out”, the foreign ministry said on Monday, after Zambia denied claims by a White House official that China is about to take over its state power utility to recover debt.

U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton adjusts glasses during a news briefing following his meetings with Georgian officials in Tbilisi, Georgia October 26, 2018. REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili/File Photo

U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton said on Thursday that China’s quest for more power in Africa was evident in nations like Zambia, where China was poised to take over utility company Zesco to collect the $6-10 billion debt.

Zambian presidential spokesman Amos Chanda told Reuters that China was not planning to take over Zesco and that the figure of between $6-10 billion given by Bolton was wrong. Zambia’s total external debt was now $9.7 billion including $3.1 billion owed to China, he said.

Speaking in Beijing at a daily news briefing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said this wasn’t the first time a U.S. official had been caught out on this kind of issue, though she gave no details on that.

“I hope the they can learn a lesson and reflect on things, and going forward not blurt things out again,” Hua said, without elaborating.

Bolton had called the business practices of China and Russia in Africa “corrupt” and “predatory” and said the United States planned to counter their economic and political influence.

In June, Zambia decided to delay all planned borrowing indefinitely, slowing down the accumulation of new debt amid worries about the risk of debt distress.

President Edgar Lungu said last month Zambia was committed to improving the transparency of its debt management and would ensure that debt levels remain sustainable.

The IMF rejected Zambia’s borrowing plans in February, saying they risked making its debt load harder to sustain.

Finance Minister Margaret Mwanakatwe said last month the government plans to send a delegation to China by the end of this year to discuss Zambia’s debt and debt restructuring.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard

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